Unfinished | #AtoZChallenge

Your words are slurred. Your eyes are bloodshot.

All the time.

It isn’t just the drinking. The way you think has changed. Your assertiveness has given way to hardness, to an ugly edge laced with superiority and anger. There’s an air of unpredictability, as if any moment you’d strike a match in a room full of gasoline just for laughs. Fear clouds my thoughts. This unfamiliarity is jarring.

But I shut the door on my instincts. Your slurred words are convincing me to pick up where we left off.

Those words are the splinter on which I cut myself.


 

Hi everyone! I’m working on a minimalist fiction project for this year’s #AtoZChallenge. The story will be shared in snippets, and the events occur non-sequentially. It is for the reader to interpret and form the “whole”. You can read all the posts here. Join me, and do share links to your AtoZ posts as well!

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New Day | #AtoZChallenge

Engulfed. That’s how I felt during those first few days. By the toxic fumes of what was left of us.

I’d go to sleep with my breath and unshed tears getting caught in my chest like a tumor.
I’d wake up and you’d be my first thought even before my eyes opened to face the dawn, and the pain would press down on me like I was drowning.

I couldn’t throw my thoughts into a suitcase and throw them away like I did with so many of my things when I couldn’t bear to see them.

The ticket stubsA receipt from that one time we got matching toothbrushes. The sunglasses I bought because you recommended them.

Sunshine. How do you escape sunshine?
Do you know it falls differently during different times of the day? It’s golden yellow around 2 PM, bends around buildings, and alters your shadow. After what happened, the 2 PM sun turned into an enemy I couldn’t bear to look at, one that reminded me of all the times we met at that time, one that made me angry, one that made me scream.

Everything made me scream.

There were days I wished I could scream with more than just my throat and lungs. I wished I could scream with my hands and the tips of my toes. I wished my skin could scream and shed and erase every last trace of you. I wished I could stop wanting to see you at every corner I turned in the street. I wished I didn’t break down in to tears all the time when I thought of you. I wished the day turned to night at 2 PM and I didn’t have to face that shade of gold that carried your name. I wished my heart would just explode and kill me, instead of letting me carry on and suffer.

I wished I wished I wished.

Then one day you weren’t my last thought before falling asleep. Another day, you weren’t the first when I woke up. The sun was still my enemy, the tears still came uninvited. And yet, with each new day, it hurt a little less and a little less.

I was guilty that I didn’t think of you that often.
I was relieved that I didn’t think of you that often.

It hasn’t stopped hurting. It may never stop hurting, and on days like this when I write about it, it returns like that first day.

But time goes on, and blood eventually stops burning.


Hi everyone! I’m working on a minimalist fiction project for this year’s #AtoZChallenge. The story will be shared in snippets, and the events occur non-sequentially. It is for the reader to interpret and form the “whole”. You can read all the posts here. Join me, and do share links to your AtoZ posts as well!

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Reaching For A Low Sky

“And what will you say when he asks since when you’ve been unwell?”
“Since yesterday afternoon.”
“And when he asks if you’ve taken any medication?”
“I took some cough syrup.”
At this point, a grin would spread across his face. This scene has been played out so many times in our home that I know what is coming. My fever-parched throat readies itself to whine, call out to my mother.
“And what will you say when the doctor asks when you’re getting married?”
“Mommy!” I shout out to her to let her know of my irritation that has nothing to do with my illness.
Mommy comes over, smiling at my father’s “dreams” of his daughter’s far-off wedding day. Dreams he has begun to have when the daughter in question is seven.
“Your daddy’s just teasing. But one day you’ll have to go.” Her smile turns wistful. The father of the future bride barks out a laugh.

My brother was never teased this way. His fevers and coughs were just fevers and coughs. His visits to the doctor did not have prospective alliances looming over them, brides lurking around in their trousseau. His doctors were never equated to matchmakers waiting for eligible bachelors to fall ill.

Parents, armed with their bedtime fairy tales and their “good-natured ribbing”, are essentially salespeople. And good ones at that. Fairy tales tell you the damsel met her prince and they lived happily ever after. That is the height of your heroine’s aspirations. The ceiling, the sky. For instance, in my dad’s hypothetical scenario, never once does the doctor ask if I maybe wanted to become a doctor myself. Or anything, other than “Would you like a groom with your prescription?

This height of aspirations, not seeing beyond the “happily ever after”, was perfectly summarized in another conversation from my childhood. The youngest one in our group loved (and I mean LOVED!) to play the bride in our games. Just the bride, mind you. She was quite young, a kindergartner at the time if I remember correctly. Our neighbor’s daughter, who was in college, often came over to pinch our cheeks when she saw us playing. One day, she asked the little one why she liked playing the role of the bride. She whispered something into the older girl’s ear, whereupon her eyes widened theatrically and she exclaimed, “Haaye main marr jaawaan!” This roused our curiosity, and after we demanded, “Didi, usne kya kaha? What did she say?!” a few times, Didi revealed to us that, “Use sajne ka shauk hai. She loves to dress up.

That is honestly all that’s sold to us. And that is enough. It leads to a lifetime of insecurities and doubts on self-worth, creating scared little girls whose only ambition is to be a bride someday. (Note how I say “bride” and not “wife”) And why? Because it’s nice to dress up? Play a bedecked and bejewelled centrepiece as a linear continuation of our childhood games?

Now you could argue that this limit on women’s aspirations is a thing of the past. After all, both the examples above are from my childhood. And that now, girls are encouraged to choose other, better ambitions than settling down unwillingly into someone else’s life and getting lost in it. If you believe this, then I’m here to shatter those beliefs (as much as I wish you were right)

girlslifevsboyslife
Image Source

These magazine covers are from September 2016.

This is just the beginning of a certain kind of conditioning that states your main aim is to look pretty. That’s your ladder. It starts at a young age and something we carry into adulthood. An unmarried woman past a certain age is automatically labeled a failure, even if she’s the CEO of a company. She’s labeled “angry”, “aggressive”, “frustrated”. Never “successful”. Never “fulfilled” or “happy”. The world cannot compute even the possibility. The world has not taught the woman to aspire to this happiness, this success. How dare she? 

Then there are some of those (I’m struggling to not use expletives here) who complain, “But if women really could do better than they are now, why are all the famous scientists men?” These people need to be high-fived. In the face. With Thor’s hammer. (Then they would probably ask why Thor is male, but that’s just not an argument that’s worth getting into.)

When girls as young as eight are taught that their whole worth depends on their “swimsuit bodies”, it teaches them that their priorities are different. There are others who do not even have the advantage of a decent education. There are definitely those who go against their conditioning and against these obstacles. But the ones who’ve just been hit with the hammer have never heard of them. Cherry picking exists everywhere.

As for the “happily ever after”, if there’s a more guilt ridden position than “wife”, I’ll be happy to hear it. If you work, you’re guilty. If you don’t, you still are. If you have friends and a social life, you’re guilty. If you don’t, you still are. There’s guilt anywhere you turn, because you are always expected to be a certain way and somehow, you are always failing to meet those expectations. To use my own example, I’ve lost count of the hints that have been dropped around me that it’s now “time to quit my job and take care of the household”. Ridiculous as it sounds, it appears that I’m a rebel of sorts just because I go for work.

It’s taken me years, but I’m finally learning to let go of the “wife guilt”. Letting go of it one wedding bangle at a time. It’s taken me even more years, but I’m unlearning my “Cinderella Complex”. My “Snow White Complex”. My “Hell-literally-any-fairy-tale-with-a-prince-and-damsel-in-distress Complex”. I won’t deny that I suffered from it – it was a part of my upbringing. It is all I heard every time I fell ill, every time I changed schools, every time a family friend came to visit. Every time I was reminded that I was a cumbersome responsibility that my parents had to shed. All of these expectations that didn’t even lead to a cute dress up party, as my little friend claimed a long time ago, but a disappointing, underwhelming experience (which I wrote about here). 

When I wrote the above-linked post, in his comments, Marty Rubin pointed out that women give up so much of their freedom when they get married. It occurred to me that though we all know this to be true in most cases, we still go ahead without a second thought because it never crosses our minds to negotiate better for our future. We put a lid on our dreams because of the fears that have been instilled in us. We don’t even realize it at the time, because our minds have been warped into believing that we’re meeting the ambition that was set for us from childhood.

Why are we doing this to little girls?


This is the Women’s Day week and I’ve written this post as a part of #WomenOfBlogging. If you’ve written a post about this theme, please add it to the Linky:

Edit: The Linkup Widget isn’t appearing on my blog. If you have written a post for #WomenofBlogging, in addition to adding it to the Linky, please drop a comment below as well. Thanks!

Changes, Self-Indulgence, and The Four Year Cycle

Of late, this rough little slimy rope has been growing around my mind telling me I sound overly self indulgent, a la Elizabeth Gilbert from what I assume to be a pre-Eat Pray Love era. I have criticized the book in the past because I felt it was the work of a privileged person who had the means to indulge if she so wished. But I stand here corrected, because unless we’ve been on the edge of chaos and confusion, I don’t think we are in a position to judge. So humor me while I too find my footing like she did.

While I do not have the resources to take a year off work and go eating in Italy or cycling in Bali, I do know that I’m going to move out of my comfortable box. For two whole years now, I have been caught in this conflict between stagnancy and listlessness. This is partly because I’m used to things changing – change, as the saying goes, has been the only constant in my life.

Growing up, we changed cities every four years (give or take one year). Which meant every four years, I had to leave behind friends, houses, familiar settings. Which means, even now, while I am surprisingly loyal to my friends, I remain a tad detached out of fear of being eventually uprooted from their lives. This is my normal.

This paved the way for the identity issues I’ve spoken about before. This also paved the way for the what bothers me most: the lack of a place I can call home. I’m perpetually homesick for a place I do not even know for sure exists. (And I’ve written so many times about this subject, I sound repetitive even to myself).

This year, I will complete eight years in Bangalore. That’s double of what I’m used to. This February, I will have lived in my current residence for four years. Those who know me know that every part of me rejected this house since the day I moved in. The reasons why I have my name on the contract, the forceful ways I’m tied to it – all of it only caused me to reject it more. You cannot turn a house into a home if you’re so busy disconnecting from it. Did I give it a try? Yes, because as I mentioned above, it’s a house that’s been forced on me, so goddammit, I tried to make it work. But eventually you reach a breaking point. One where the dissonance around you shakes everything you know and you’re willing to let go of it all. Why now and not before? That’s a story for another day.

The next part of my grand 2017-figure life out plan/idea is that I’ve decided to move to a different city. Which city? I don’t know. Am I jinxing it by speaking too soon about it? Maybe. Is the world a hostile place right now (quite possibly on the brink of war)? I do believe it. But eight years ago also the world was a shaky place and I still quit a cozy job to move cities for my own reasons – a move which was unanimously labeled “hasty and stupid” by family and friends. I still like to think I made it, professionally at least. Only back then, I knew where to move and what I wanted to do. Elizabeth Gilbert knew where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do. Right now, I do not know either.

Who’s got advice for me?

Everything Must Go

First it was goodreads.

Well, obviously. What else could it be, knowing me. It’s cluttered with nearly everything everyone’s ever recommended. Friends, acquaintances, even enemies. Even the site’s own recommendations based on what you’ve already read. Which is a good thing; it isn’t annoying like Facebook’s People You May Know. Even a bad book, after all, trumps human beings. I had even added books based on my mood or ideology – I went through a phase where I added a bunch of Christopher Hitchens and Dawkins and whatnot.

All the books I own are enshrined in a lovely oak wood shelf in my room, placed in a way that it’s the first thing I see when I wake up. Creepy, perhaps, but better than mirrors or photographs of lovers. Never one to willingly give in to egotism or sentimentality. There was no way anything was going to happen to those books, so it was goodreads that took it. For really, an ideology is for yourself. If I am an atheist or a feminist, I already know that that is what I am without having to read a book about it. I don’t need other authors to validate what I already know. When you realize that, you suddenly wonder why there are books on the subject on your TBR shelf. They may be interesting, but why read over and over what you already know. So out they all went, books I had added in the spur of the moment, knowing for sure I would never read.

A relative’s solution to all of the world’s problems is to clean. Pick up a mop, scrub or duster, and clean. every surface, wood, marble, glass; clean. I never believed in that wisdom, because it is but a distraction, the newly shined house, much like a new haircut, or new clothes. A distraction, not a solution.

A distraction of the kind that would explain the mountains and mountains of clothes piled up in my wardrobe. My old roommate would often complain to her friends about how I had too many clothes that took up precious shared closet space. I didn’t have a fraction back then as I do now. Or did, until recently. The depression led to more and more being bought and brought in, until they piled on, piled on and on like garbage, like vomit, like the blackness in my mind threatening to swallow me whole, like the wooden doors of my wardrobe were an obese stomach about to burst through the shirt that tried to hold it in. I couldn’t take it anymore. They disgusted me, once what were my favourite colours and shades. So they went next, after the many books on virtual goodreads shelves. Eight large bags. Why in hell did I have so many clothes? Why do I still have so many that I can go on for months without having to repeat. Why, really? I have no paparazzi hounding me waiting to smear me the moment I was seen in the same outfit twice. Why then do I have this ridiculous number of clothes and shoes? They went next, the shoes. Even looking at my little indulgences made me sick to my stomach, like a bug from mayonnaise gone bad.

Having gotten rid of these little materialistic things, I let go of friends, both false and true. So many of the former, so few of the latter. The ones that mattered and the ones that didn’t. And strange how quickly they scattered, for what was I but a speck of dust in their minds, swatted away with the lightest gush of breeze. The shock of it, as if they were waiting for me to say goodbye so they could finally leave. The surprise at the support from unknown, unexpected quarters. I bade them all goodbye for who they were friends
with once wasn’t who I had turned into; they deserved none of it, none of
my burdens, no matter how obligated they felt to shoulder it. I couldn’t figure out myself who I had turned into.

Then the connections to them – the internet, for who makes phone calls
anymore. Does anyone? If someone does, I don’t answer; so much easier to not
let anyone hear my voice, worried that they may ask what truly happened and worried that my voice might crack and shatter like the mirror I refuse to look at.

Then went the music. The new phone is a stupid piece of junk. It has the storage memory that could as well have been a small single digit number and the stupid thing doesn’t even come with an external memory slot. So out went the music, the favourites, the ones that
made me cry and smile and reminisce. But I’m only pinning blame because I am pushing off admitting that music had been on its way out since the past couple of years. Why have I, whose life and emotions were so inextricably tied with music, denied myself this simple, but necessary pleasure? Why tear off a part of my soul like the skin off my palms? I can’t say, I don’t know, except that all the roots begin at one place.

I do not wish to give up writing. I don’t think I could. But who am I fooling, I couldn’t write well if my life depended on it. I do it cos it gives me something to do, somewhere to vent. And in all honesty, I wish for once someone would give me something more than empty words. I waited and waited some more; I wrote and I wrote some more. But I can’t. Not anymore.

I’m exhausted.

tl;dr: hiatus.

The Heavier Expectations

A few weeks ago, I was discussing Past life regression with an acquaintance. While I was always interested in the study of the mind, and the subconscious, and Freud’s theories, past life regression is a wholly new area for me. I had, of course, heard of it, but it was not something I gave much thought to. To me, until then, reincarnation, or past life, or the manifestations of accumulated karma were a largely religious concept, and therefore something to be dismissed as hokum. They were also, to some extent, a Bollywoodesque idea, that had run its course somewhere in the 90s.

No matter, because the idea was still intriguing, and I have to say, all of a sudden, I wanted to know if I had lived lives before. Wait. I’d be lying if I said the idea took root when the discussion happened. The fact is, I had been curious about past lives ever since I read Ashwin Sanghi’s The Rozabal Line, back in 2009. It has come and gone like a whiff every now and then since then. If such a thing exists, then I’d like to know something about it. Anything. It is difficult not to romanticize about it once the idea has planted itself.

But this particular discussion dug its toes deeper into my head. Suddenly, I was googling past life regression in the middle of the night, in the midst of a splitting headache, and reading all I could find on the subject. I dreamed up all kinds of scenarios, where I sat with a practitioner and discovered who I was, and dramatically discovered my relationships with those who are in my present life. Most prominently though, I secretly harbored this fantasy that I would discover I was Sylvia Plath or Anais Nin in a past life. A girl can dream, eh?

One of the articles I read said that the only people who are advised to perform past life regression are those who feel there is something lacking in their present life, or those who are trying to find the root cause of a problem or emotion. I have always felt this strange sense of “not belonging”. Not to this world, not to this period in time. Always a little lost, always searching for “home.” Always trying to figure something out. I have written several posts about this as well. This explains the Sylvia Plath fantasy!

The reason why I am a writer today is partly because I have been trying to explore these questions. On the other hand, I believe writers must keep an open mind – to all hypotheses, to all ideas, to all experiences. I also believe writers must give in to instincts and emotions. Writers grow through excesses. The excesses they fit into their short attention spans. The whys. The hows. The alrights. The welcomes. The loves. The lusts. The harmonys. The cordialitys. The honestys. The opennesses. The acceptances. The understandings.

The being.

My error was, however, I bracketed all writers into these open-minded souls. I forgot, at the end of the day, we are humans. Humans with our pettiness and our general smallness of mind. I went out into the world expecting the same openness from everyone around me, placing the burden of my heavy expectations on their broad but weak shoulders.

Where I went looking for open-mindedness, I found the same kind of world I sought to abandon – closed, small souls, calling themselves creators but being nothing more than lice trying to trample each other on one head of hair. Angry souls. Dishonest souls. Backstabbing souls. Lonely and afraid souls. Friendless souls. Judgmental souls. Mocking souls.

Not souls. They were mere humans.

I went looking for people, who, perhaps felt as lost as I. I believed I would find the honesty and humility I was looking for in a crooked world. That maybe, in being among my own kind, or who I thought were my own kind, I would find myself. That together, we would better ourselves. Instead, all I found was a subset of the same people who already thought they were higher than the rest simply because they could string sentences one after the other. Who I found were those looking for instant fame. Writers on the outside, nosey, obnoxious neighbours on the inside.

Not writers. They were mere marketers.

Often, even in friendships, my expectations of others have been too great a weight for them to bear. Perhaps, this is an extension of it, and perhaps, this feeds my somewhat dormant misanthropy. It cushions the disappointments that come my way.

I wonder if I were to actually do the regression (since that is, after all, what we were discussing), what would I find about myself that would explain my boredom? What would I find that would stop me from placing so many expectations on simple-minded folk who do not deserve it.

 

Artists on the Boulevard

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Image Source: GettyImages

Reclusive I had been so long

Forgotten the ways of the world

Forgotten the art of speech known

The misty window said outside was cold.

 

My old, worn, brown jacket

That had seen better days

Now with ink splotches it’s dotted

Signs of my moods and rage.

 

I took a stroll on the boulevard

Where lost artists set up their easels

The colours of their palette clashed

Against the grey painted by the winter.

 

Shocked was I to find my songs

Printed on sheets yellowed

Fingerprints and wasted brushstrokes

Accompanied verses of our love now gone.

 

And such paintings our songs inspired!

Breathtaking; they would leave you speechless

Such talent, yet in the cold they’ve to perspire,

I merely watched as our words took form on canvas.

 

I continued to stroll when one artist

Cried aloud in despair, and in anger

Rushed to destroy what he had just painted

One of two lovers; he smeared on black and red.

 

The result seemed beautiful even then

Two bodies writhing in ecstasy or turmoil

I noticed the verse he used; it was my favourite

Reminded me of so much; I paid a sum royal.

 

Now it adorns the wall above my typewriter

Reminds me of why I’m a recluse in a world of colour

Had I not been a poet, with my whims and swings of anger

Would we be like those paintings, still together?